Paris is an undeniable cosmopolitan hub as well as the undefeated fashion capital of the world. So for global women in fashion, it’s the ideal place to excel. For two Filipina women who identify with having a “tri-cultural” approach to life and business, Paris is the stage they’ve chosen to bring Filipino savoir-faire to the international community. By supporting unique brands that celebrate artisanal heritage and traditional craftsmanship, Bianca Monzon-Cueva and Michealle Torres-Descolonges of Agence Le Bon Mot are keeping the beauty of their culture alive, while sharing it with the world.
As they gear up for Premiere Classe, a prestigious trade show featuring high-end fashion accessories, they stopped to share their approach to running a business and leading a thriving life in Paris, sharing the global journey that led them to where they are today.
One of the unique things about your stories as business founders is the fact that you are tri-cultural. Can you speak more about your international background, and how it helps you navigate your global life/business?
Bianca Monzon-Cueva (BM): My partner and I both grew up and were educated in Manila, Philippines. Michealle proceeded to work in Singapore as Executive Editor for prominent titles such as Elle and Prestige Asia, before she moved back to the Philippines to assume the editor-in-chief role for the premier local fashion magazine, Metro. She moved to France to marry her French husband, whom she met while shooting an editorial cover for Metro Magazine in Paris.
I moved to San Francisco and New York post-university to work in fashion product management for eight years at the headquarters of brands such as GAP, Coach, and Ralph Lauren. I moved to Paris for an MBA in Luxury Brand Management and learned under brands such as Lanvin, Lancel, and Chloé.
Now that my business partner and I are both based in France, we always carry our extended roots from Asia and the US, thanks to our extensive networks, along with our cultivated skills and training from our past homes and careers. This allows us to serve our clients better by being able to bridge cultural gaps in communication, being able to anticipate business needs from different perspectives, and tap into expanded networks in Asia or the US as needed for our brands. We are truly global minds that can offer such a perspective from having actually lived in different parts of the world.
What led you both to Paris, and what is it like for you to live and work here as international women compared to everywhere else you’ve lived?
BM: Now that we each have families in Paris, and have learned to speak French well enough, we can say we are well assimilated into the Parisian life. As far as adjustments [we’ve had to make], I really find that service in Paris still has so much room for improvement, especially when you compare it to Asia’s “service with a smile”, or with the Americans’ natural drive to deliver everything in the fastest, most efficient way.
The pros would definitely be that we now have the pleasure of living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where family life is arguably more balanced than where we previously came from. Also, for work, there is no doubt Paris is still the fulcrum of the fashion world. This is where all the heritage brands started, and thus, this is where everyone in the world still goes to find the latest trends and the next big thing in fashion.
Can you tell us about the mission of your PR agency called Agence Le Bon Mot? What motivates you to use your business as a platform to promote other Filipinos and to inspire others to get engaged?
BM: Our agency was conceived out of a strong passion to promote Filipino creativity, artisanship, and design on this side of the world. But by “promoting,” we are by no means limited to being a PR agency – we actually provide a 360 degree service to our clients: we also manage their launches, their sales, their international clients, and their presence in trade shows or other collaborations. We believe it’s the Philippines’ turn to shine on the world stage, and we believe the world is ready to appreciate the beauty, craft and vision that Philippine products have to offer.
You have some exciting events coming up in September! Can you tell us about that?
BM: Yes, for September we have two trade shows in focus to celebrate this year’s 70th anniversary of Philippines-France relations. The first is Premiere Classe Versailles, happening at the Porte de Versailles from Sept. 8 to 11 (come see us at Hall 3, Stand 441), where we will showcase 11 of the brightest artisanal accessories brands from the Philippines in a 40m2 space celebrating Philippine savoir-faire.
The second is Premiere Classe Tuileries from Sept 28 to Oct 1, where we will feature two brands that have already garnered a lot of success with press and buyers internationally: the global press favorite ARANAZ, and the Oprah Winfrey favorite, BEATRIZ. These brands both celebrate Philippine handmade artisanship in their unique bag offers and have both been featured in prestigious stores in New York, Asia, Middle East and now Europe.
What do brands from the Philippines bring to Paris that is different from everyone else?
Michealle Torres-Descolonges (MT): The indigenous heritage and traditional know-how of Philippine artisans are often passed from ancient tribes and old family-developed crafts that reflect the natural resources and creative processes of their specific regions. As there are 7,107 islands and 120 regional dialects, you can just imagine how diverse the heritage is of our country and the richness of the creativity that comes out of it.
Most of what I see coming out of the Philippines now is a revival of age-old methods and handiwork, a celebration of native weaving patterns and materials, and a focus on the artisanal and handmade traditions — slow fashion with a heritage if you will — that the Filipino has always done well. The use of homegrown patterns and prime materials fused with polished artisanship creates products that are different from everything else that you see in the market.
Tell us about some of the brands you are excited to introduce to France and Europe. How do you choose the brands you work with?
MT: We focus on brands that employ Philippine artisanship, native materials or processes, and that try to empower the communities they work with in any way. There is a strong social and slow fashion aspect to the brands, where practically everything is made to order, usually by hand, and where each product has a story and a soul. This is the definition of modern luxury, in our opinion. It is a clear departure from the fast, the quantitative and the commercial.
We proudly feature brands like Aranaz, with unique and modernized applications on traditionally woven bags and hand-carved wooden minaudieres; Beatriz, who empowers women from less affluent communities by producing colorful clutches by hand through a special gluing process; Floreia, who has patented a special technology in reusing agriforest debris for their sustainable collections; Filip+Inna, who has revived ancient embroidery and weaving traditions from indigenous tribes; Tali Handmade, who provides livelihood to imprisoned women by training them in their special weaving process to create the final product; Ethnique, who celebrates hand-embroidery, hand-weaving and hand-stitching traditions; and Wataru, who employs families from the region to create footwear pieces using the native abaca material. Finally, our jewelry designers Mia Arcenas, Natalya Lagdameo, Carlo Evaristo (Otsirave), Joyce Makitalo and Merriam Batara all proudly develop their distinct jewelry collections using the region’s finest stones and metals in creating their collections by hand.
What are some of the most memorable feedback you’ve received from the French/European market in regards to these brands?
BM: We have been floored by the warm reception of this market with the collections we’ve launched. For example, during Beatriz’s first launch in Paris, we immediately garnered about 12 to 15 new doors across the US, Middle East and Europe – not bad at all for a first time.
We also held a launch event last July and invited some press and buyer friends, and the feedback was unanimously positive – the crowd really appreciated the rich colors, the intricate handiwork and the modernized use of native materials and woven patterns in creating current and distinctive collections. We can’t wait for everyone to see what these brands are showing for Premiere Classe, we hope the buyers come and shop with us!
Can you share a bit about your past professional lives, and how it informs your work today? For those who want to follow a similar career path as yours, what advice can you give to be successful in PR?
BM: Michealle worked in fashion magazines and is well-versed in dealing with the press, editorial content and processes. I am more in tune with the business side and marketing – developing our social media presence, focusing on different aspects of sales, calculating costs and engaging new partners for projects. Thus, our skills and connections are from different fields, so it is a win-win scenario once we put our resources together.
For those who want to start a similar path, the most important thing is to GO FOR IT. We had a passion and a vision that started as a dream, and one day, without much fuss or fanfare, we just decided to go for it — to start our company from scratch and to learn all the processes and skills involved organically.
Make no mistake, we pour so much hard work and uncompromised vision into everything we do, so that surely pays off with the quality of work we put out. We have also been fortunate to have the support and wisdom of our mentors and the trust of clients who decided to give us a chance. Don Papa Rum, Aranaz and Beatriz — three very well-respected brands in the Philippines with some already established global traction — who trusted our agency with their brands and projects in this market even when we were just at the start of our journey. Finding the right opportunities also had a lot to do with our agency’s upward trajectory so far.
Can you share some of your favorite Parisian spots and pastimes for INSPIRELLE readers?
BM: Sure! We love picnicking at the Champ de Mars or in the Parc de Luxembourg, lunching at Clown Bar or L’Ami Jean, enjoying apéro at L’Avant Comptoir or sunset drinks along Les Berges, discovering new galleries and shops in le Marais and discovering new expos and events at the Grand Palais and other museums. Nightlife scenes in South Pigalle (Le Grand Pigalle, Carmen, etc), St. Germain (Tiger, Prescription, Castor Club, La Palette), Canal St Martin (Gravity, Le Comptoir General, etc) and various spots in le Marais or the 11ème.
Since we have kids, we also love trick or treating in the Tuileries during Halloween and visiting the different parks and museums to enjoy their many child-based activities. Follow my page @myparismoments for more!
(All photos courtesy of Agence le Bon Mot)